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Archive for October, 2013

The Price of Rare Earth Neodymium Magnets – Up, Down, Up Down.

So it was less than a few months ago that we discussed the price of Neodymium. Since that time the price continued to fall (it was shown reaching down to 150 $/kg in the graph in that post). So what has the price of Neodymium done since then? Well it seems to be….bouncing.

163 From 150$/kg at the bottom of the last graph the price seemed to continue to drop down to 90 all the way to about 75$/kg. Then it started rising again in the mid-summer. Then just a couple of weeks ago the prices started to fall again. So what happened? Apparently the price rise was based on speculation that a very large order from China’s State Reserver Bureau was in the works, but fell through. China is also experiencing some economic woes in their commodities markets.

Another factor is that other nations besides China have been working on their own Neodymium production. Russia invested heavily this year on rare-earth production to prevent dependence on China’s output. In the US the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act was passed which is designed to speed up approval of mining operations.

All of these actions are in response to China’s heavy restriction on Neodymiums over the past year that caused a massive upsurge in Neodymium price before it crashed. It is hard to tell if China was flexing its economic muscles and is now paying the price, or if it was legitimately trying to control mining production and pollution issues but ended up stinging the world market.

It is also possible that Neodymium may continue simple rises and falls like any marketplace commodity, no longer rock-bottom but also no longer with sky-high prices.



10 Fun Facts About Microscopes!

1) Unlike telescopes, who people incorrectly credit to Galileo, nobody is really certain who invented the microscope. But it wasn’t very long after the telescope was IncanMicroscopeinvented that the first microscope was developed in Northern Europe, doubtless by lens grinders.

2) In the past, the biggest problem with using a microscope was illuminating the subject. Many microscopes used mirrors and they had to be angled just right between a light source and the staging plate. Until recently most kid’s microscopes used mirrors and could be frustrating to use.

3) There are actually two types of microscopes with very different purposes: Biological or Compound microscopes, which many are familiar with, are used for viewing slides. Inspection/Dissection microscopes are used to view specimens directly. Since Inspection Microscopes use two objectives and two eyepieces they give true stereo vision. Compound microscopes do not give stereo vision, even if they have two eyepieces, but most objects on slides are flat anyway. Compounds also give much higher magnification.

4) Most Compound microscopes give magnifications of 40x, 100x, and 400x. Some cheap microscope may promise much higher magnifications but these should not be trusted. Why? because:

5) When you get to magnifications of 600x or more you very likely need to use something called ‘immersion oil’ to effectively view the subject. This is because the lenses at this magnification are very small and tight so just the air between the slide and the glass lens can mess up the path the light takes and distort the image.  Immersion oil reduces that optical aberration.

26796) Many microscopes use what are called “DIN” objectives. This is often seen as a sign of quality and that is usually true, but the DIN usually just means that a lens can be taken from one microscope and put onto another. The DIN is simply noting that the threads for installing the objective lens are the same size & threading.  DIN lenses themselves can be of many optical designs.

7) Once you get past a certain quality level, microscopes tend to become specialized for specific purposes. MOHS microscopes are used in Dermatology, for example.

8) If you see a microscope that has an angled body it is probably based off an old mirror- design and should probably be avoided. Someone is re-using old molds to make an obsolete design. Although these often have lights attached it still makes a poor design for everyday use.

9) When setting up your own microscope be sure to make certain you will be comfortable while using it. Many people have given themselves sore necks by having the microscope set too low. Also, if you have a microscope that is not binocular make sure that when you close one eye you are not making the other one (the one you are viewing with) squint. If you have trouble with this simply cover the other eye with your hand or learn to ignore what that eye is seeing when using the microscope.

10) If you are getting a microscope for yourself or as a gift, be sure to get some things besides a few prepared slides. Blank slides can be used to make your own slides, 2811Concave slides can be used to view living creatures in water (get some from your local pond!).  Slide preparation kits can be used to help prepare and stain slides. Microtomes can be used to cut sliver-thin samples from specimens.  be sure to consider these things for the maximum enjoyment of the microscope!

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Metal Earth – New Models Part 2

OK in part 1 we covered most of the new Metal Earth models that are popular landmarks, now it is time for everything else. So let;s start with a TANK!



Metal Earth: New Models Part 1

Metal Earth, previously known as Metal Marvels and Metal Works has introduced a new batch of models, including some of their Gold series which use three sheets to build. The originals were built using just one single 11x11cm sheet. The Silver series increased it to two sheets, and now comes the Gold series.

In any case, if you didn’t know what Metal Earth is, it is models you put together using pieces laser etched into sheets of steel. Assembly usually takes about 30-45 minutes and requires only a set of needle-nose pliers.

First up we will look at the new Gold Series. We added two of these, first is the Sydney Opera House



Jr. Scientist Series – The Weird

So in previous posts covering the products in the new Jr. Scientists series we covered their robotic kits, then in part 2 we covered their crystal kits and the telescope kit. But that is the final chapter in this science set series, and let’s just say that the products in this last post are a little – strange. Let’s start off with the very unusual: The Hand Dynamo Helicopter and Flip Flop Turtle.

Yes, you read that correctly.



Jr. Scientist Series Part 2 – Crystals and Telescopes

We covered some of the Robotic Jr. Scientist series in part 1. In part 2 we cover a couple of other parts of the new Jr. Scientists series one involving crystals and the other involving making your own refracting telescope.

Crystal growing has long been a part of kids chemistry experiments. It is fun to watch the crystals grow over time and there have been plenty of kits available for crystal growing, but when we saw the Jr. Scientist version we had to give it a try!



Jr. Scientist Series Part 1 -Robot-y Things

We’ve added a few new products from Elenco’s J.r Scientist series. These are products from Japan that are quite innovative, educational, fun and affordable. We’ve added a few of these and will start off with the robotic ones. First up is the Tumbling Robot

4767The Tumbling Robot is a tough customer. He walks along with what is called an ‘angry pace’. If he falls over he simply tumbles right back into a standing position and continues walking. The Tumbling robot is powered by a single motor and you assemble it. If placed in a sitting position the Tumbling Robot will do somersaults. It can also walk in dancing mode where the arms swing wildly as the robot ‘dances’. (more…)